By Rich Simon If you try to get to the irreducible core of why many of us entered this field, it has to do with our endless fascination with that mysterious, indefinable, but utterly indispensable quality of any good therapist: Wisdom.
Yes, wisdom—whatever that is. We have trouble really defining it precisely, but we know it when we feel and hear it. Wisdom is undoubtedly helpful in any line of work, but in what other profession that ours is wisdom the single most important quality to have? After all, where do people generally go when they need somebody who can help them negotiate the messiest, most excruciating, and most personally difficult passages of life?
Let’s face it: In our Secular Age, the traditional wisdom dispensers—priests, ministers, and rabbis—just don’t have the caseloads they once did. And with all our explorations of the brain and the connection among mind, body, and spirit, we seem to be alone in adding to the store of human wisdom, rather than holding on for dear life to the certainties of the past. In fact, as the research increasingly tells us, it’s not our methods, but ourselves that are the primary active ingredients in the Consulting Room.
But how on earth does a therapist (or anybody else) acquire this indispensable—although largely indefinable—quality of human wisdom? You can’t get it by taking a course (“Wisdom 101,” say), or following a strict treatment protocol, or reading up on the latest research in your specialty. And yet, most of us know it when we feel and hear it. We are drawn to wise people—we listen to them, trust them, try to learn from them, and hope that some of that elusive wisdom dust will rub off on us.
When we hear and talk with people wiser than we are, we internalize; quite literally taking in—through our neurobiological equipment—some of their wisdom. We incorporate their voices and their unique vision within our own store of life experiences. We may even follow that voice when we find ourselves in difficult circumstances. How many therapists have thought to themselves when faced with a troublesome case, “What would [fill in the blank] do when faced with this client”? The more wise people we seek out and attend, the more acute and capacious our own understanding becomes.
In our new Networker webcast series, Today’s Wisdom: How It Can Transform Your Practice, we will hear from a group of people who I truly believe are among some of the wisest in our field. Indeed, it has been particularly thrilling for me to have the opportunity to talk with these larger-than-life presences. Each of these conversations, in its own idiosyncratic way, provides a life lesson in how wisdom might express itself in the consulting room.
Irvin Yalom, both an eminent psychiatrist and a renowned novelist, is—for many—the very embodiment of the archetypal wise shrink. In his interview, he focuses on the profound power of story-telling—in both fiction and in the consulting room—to uncover the most profound truths about life.
Mary Pipher, an authentic American sage from Nebraska, offers her vision about how we can open up to the enormous issues we face collectively, while at the same time leading lives that are joyous, connected, and empowered.
Ron Siegel is a pioneer in integrating therapeutic wisdom with the ancient spiritual traditions of the East. In our conversation, he describes how the merger of the two traditions not only has expanded the focus of standard psychotherapy, but has also begun to change the ways we can incorporate spiritual practice in our lives.
Eugene Gendlin, a one-time colleague of Carl Rogers and the originator of Focusing, gives a remarkable demonstration on how to remain deeply rooted in the present moment, no matter what your age. While Eugene is almost 85, I’ve had few experiences in my life speaking with someone with such an active mind and such an intense presence.
Tara Brach, a therapist and leading Buddhist teacher, believes that the path to wisdom begins with taking your own favorite—and often self-defeating—story about yourself with a grain of salt, and learning to understand the difference between your “story” and your actual life.
Daniel Kahneman, a Nobel Prize winner for his seminal work on behavioral economics, explains the role of automatic thinking and systematic biases play in our mental machinery. In fact, you might say that his work offers a profound challenge to the very concept of “wisdom.” You won’t want to miss the conversation with him.
As we head toward November 6th (Election Day), you’ll find that our upcoming webcast series—which begins on November 7th—is the exact opposite of the political debate we’ve all been watching over these past many months. Too often our political leaders try to shrink our understanding to fit a one-sided, parochial vision of truth. More than anything, what the remarkable conversations available in our series on Today’s Wisdom reveal is that rather than dumbing life down, genuine wisdom broadens and deepens our understanding, and makes the world—and the consulting room—a more fascinating place to inhabit.